ROBERT SIEGEL, host:
This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Robert Siegel.
MELISSA BLOCK, host:
And I'm Melissa Block.
There was a trickle of good news for residents of New Orleans today. Louisiana Governor Kathleen Blanco announced the creation of a state Recovery Authority. Also, in a move that might help individuals but further strain city coffers, officials say property assessments will be slashed by 60 percent.
SIEGEL: Last month we paid a visit to one block at the eastern edge of New Orleans, a small street called Honeysuckle Lane. Floodwaters were gone, but some ground-level floors were damp and caked with mold and mud. Others were just fine. A few residents went back briefly to assess the damage, but most had fled, some far, some near. Since then we've been tracking down the people who live on Honeysuckle Lane. It's a subdivision of single-family homes and some duplexes in New Orleans East. By focusing on this small piece of a big picture, we hope to understand the hurdles that many homeowners have to leap before they arrive at something approaching normal.
There is no one place to find out where the people of Honeysuckle Lane went after the storm, but one by one we're starting to find them. And so far they share one sentiment, a deep longing for the place that they've left behind.
Pat Zeller(ph) lives at 40 Honeysuckle Lane. After stays with family elsewhere, she and her husband are now back in New Orleans, not at home but at a hotel downtown courtesy of FEMA.
Ms. PAT ZELLER (Honeysuckle Lane Resident): My heart is in New Orleans. I can't imagine living anyplace else. This is my home, and I've always lived in the East and I liked it there because we're not on top of each other. I like it there.
SIEGEL: Pat Zeller is living relatively near her home. In Hampton, Virginia, we found another Honeysuckle Lane resident. Kia Wire(ph) owns number 37 Honeysuckle Lane. She lived there with her mother and her younger sister.
Ms. KIA WIRE (Honeysuckle Lane Resident): It's really like a major culture shock to me because I'm so used to being in my city, where everything is live, happening; an event is always going on. I am what they call a New Orleans die-hard. I love my city. I want to go home. I want to help to rebuild the city. I want to rebuild my own home.
SIEGEL: That's Kia Wire. And then there's another neighbor from a few houses away.
Ms. KELLY WILKERSON(ph) (Honeysuckle Lane Resident): My name is Kelly Wilkerson. I live at 47 Honeysuckle Lane. I'm now residing between family and friends. It's been a little hectic, but I'm still here.
SIEGEL: And have you been back to Honeysuckle Lane to see the property?
Ms. WILKERSON: I've been back to Honeysuckle Lane approximately three times. I can honestly say my damages--they are still what everyone else is probably experiencing right now, but I did not get that muck. I didn't have that black soot all in my house. I did have two and a half inches of water, but, unfortunately, the damages as far as the mold and losing my belongings is the same as anyone else. It might have not made my furniture float about, but everything is wet. My dad was cremated. That was on my mantelpiece. And all that got wet from the ceiling. That can't be replaced. You can't give me ashes over again.
SIEGEL: Now, meanwhile, you have to figure out what kind of work you're going to do now. Tell us about what you were doing before Katrina and what you might be doing later.
Ms. WILKERSON: Well, before Katrina I was in school for cosmetology teacher training. I was going in my second semester for teacher training, and I had like eight manikins in my locker. I had rollers in my locker, products in my locker, things that can never be replaced. When I actually came to New Orleans to actually come see, that was the first place I went, to my job. I go to my job, I open the door, and when--I tell you it looked like the tsunami had went inside that building. There was not a cabinet--at the stations like where you get your hair done--there was no cabinet. There was no countertop. Only thing that was left that I can actually make sense of was the mirrors and the pictures on it.
SIEGEL: So the damage to your workplace was worse than the damage...
Ms. WILKERSON: It was worse.
SIEGEL: ...to your house, but that deprives you of a place where you could go work if you go back to the neighborhood.
Ms. WILKERSON: Exactly. And I need money to be able to buy all of these supplies and tools all over again.
SIEGEL: Do you feel in your bones that when all this is past, you will be back in New Orleans, or is that really in doubt for you?
Ms. WILKERSON: Well, in my bones, this is all I know. I have never been anywhere else, other than to visit. This is my home. This is my town. This is where--everything I ever had, owned, experienced is all right here. I mean, don't get me wrong, there are good and bad times, but this is all I know. This is where I want to be, and I want to be here to be able to flourish and grow in my career as well. But at the same time, I mean, right now it doesn't look like there's so much hope at all. I mean, you see people outside working. But then you really sit back and you ask yourself, `How long must we got through this? Is it ever going to be the way it used to be? Will there ever be downtown and Canal Street the way it used to be?' And they're talking about we're going to still have Mardi Gras. Well, where you going to get the children from that brings on the band? New Orleans isn't the same anymore, not right now. Then we're all scattered all over the place, just like when I was in Baton Rouge. Everything closes at 2:00.
SIEGEL: At 2:00 in the...
Ms. WILKERSON: AM.
SIEGEL: ...AM now. You're used to a..
Ms. WILKERSON: Oh, we're not...
SIEGEL: ...city that stays open 24/7...
Ms. WILKERSON: That's right.
SIEGEL: ...is what you're interested in.
Ms. WILKERSON: That's right. When--after 2:00 there's nothing to do. And that's boring.
SIEGEL: That's boring you're saying, yeah.
Ms. WILKERSON: Yes.
SIEGEL: Another--I mean, I--this is unique to New Orleans and maybe, you know, New York City, a few other cities that stay open all night long.
Ms. WILKERSON: The problem is we need to rebuild. We need to be rebuilding right now. These people that don't have homes that want to come back, open up these hotels. Open them up--free housing. Let us come somewhere so that we could start the rebuilding because I want to rebuild. I want to be here with that. I want to see this city flourish into the flower that it can be.
SIEGEL: Kelly Wilkerson, thanks a lot for talking with us today.
Ms. WILKERSON: You're welcome. Thank you.
SIEGEL: That's 28-year-old Kelly Wilkerson. Today she learned that she no longer needs to depend on the kindness of friends for shelter. FEMA has moved her into the Sheraton Hotel at the edge of the French Quarter.
Tomorrow, whether residents of Honeysuckle Lane will be able to go back.
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